United Nations Releases “State of Climate Services 2020”

The new report, the “State of Climate Services,” asserts that over 11,000 natural disasters occurred due to weather, climate and water-related hazards between 1970 and 2019. Approximately two million people died as a result of such disasters, which ultimately cost $3.6 trillion in economic losses. Released by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), an agency of the United Nations, the report coincided with the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction. According to the report, recorded disasters have increased five-fold since 1970, due to climate change. Although weather, climate and water-related hazards occur globally, the impacts of the disasters are felt most severely in the “least developed countries” and small island states. As a result, early warning systems are necessary. However, one in three people reside in locations lacking access to adequate early warning systems.

Reportedly, only forty percent of WMO Members have Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems in place. A multi-hazard system is beneficial, capable of broadcasting the impacts of several hazards, taking into account “the potential interrelated effects.” In fact, the report advocates shifting away from forecasting “what the weather will be,” towards “what the weather will do.” Early warnings are critical and “constitute a prerequisite for effective disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.” According to WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas, “being prepared and able to react at the right time, in the right place, can save many lives and protect the livelihoods of communities everywhere.”

The report, produced by 16 international agencies and financial institutions, ultimately offers six strategic recommendations to improve early warning systems globally. The strategies include: investing in early warning system gaps, investing to turn such warnings into early action, sustainably financing the global observing system which underpins the warnings, tracking finance flows to be sure resources are being allocated to the warning systems, evaluating warning systems effectiveness, and filling in data gaps. Despite the clear need for funding, only a very small fraction of global climate finance (about five percent) is allocated towards investing in adaptation to climate change. Further, global action still falls short of effectively limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as set out in the Paris Agreement. Industrial nations specifically are failing to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, necessary to meet the 1.5 degree goal. However, it is the least developed countries and small island states that suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change, nations which have already lost billions of dollars to natural disasters.

Research demonstrates that the severity and destructiveness of storms and other disasters have increased as a result of climate change. In just the last ten years, between 2010 and 2019, weather, climate and water-related disasters increased by nine percent. In 2018 alone, approximately 108 million people globally sought help from international aid organizations, due to storms, floods, droughts and wildfires. Experts suggest that the number could increase by about fifty percent in the next ten years.

Two million people lost their lives due to climate and weather hazards. Seventy percent of the resulting deaths occurred in the world’s poorest nations. Natural disasters are likely to increase in intensity, frequency and severity, so long as climate change goes virtually unchecked. Record-breaking wildfires continue to rage throughout California. It is necessary to invest in multi-hazard early warning systems globally, as the systems “strengthen resilience” to multiple weather, climate and water-related disasters.